Contending for the Faith
After introducing himself and who Jude is writing for he tells them exactly what this letter is written to accomplish. We will look at the specific details of what this entails but we need to note that Jude had sat down at his desk to write a different letter. He informs them that he wanted to write about their common salvation. However, as Jude sat down to write this letter the Holy Spirit carried his pen in a different direction. He tells them to contend for the faith. Now, this is an important thing for us to wrap our heads around. Mainly, we would put the gospel message as the first degree of importance, and Jude’s ‘contenting for the faith’ as a secondary issue. Now I do believe you need to understand and comprehend the gospel, this is the important aspect that we bring up in our house every day, and with new believers. Nevertheless, we have sadly lost the levels of importance to only the first thing that matters. “It’s all about the gospel,” often fails to look at the benefits or the effects of the gospel on a believer’s life. However, Jude under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, we need to focus on other aspects not just our common salvation. We need to see the impact of the gospel in our lives, we need to grow as believers past the milk and move onto solid food. We need to not depart from the foundation of the gospel but build onto it. So what does Jude explain about why he has written this letter?
Contend for the Faith
Jude says that his letter is to help these believers contend for the faith. Now, these are fighting words. To contend is not a pleasant encounter. The word is a term that means hand-to-hand combat between two soldiers. Paul calls this the ‘good fight’ (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). He tells the Christians in Philippi, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Phil 1:27). This root word is used to speak of an athlete exercising self-control (1 Cor 9:25). We often think of the Christian life as something more pleasant. We speak of it as a Christian walk, journey, or pilgrimage. However, how often do we think of it as a Christian fight? Now I am not saying let’s go start our fight club for Christians, but how often do we see this as a battle, not against flesh and blood? We understand then that we do not fight people, but as Paul puts it in the Ephesians, we wrestle rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). We do so by putting on the whole armor of God. How ill-equipped we are if we do not understand this vital truth. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor 10:3–4) Christians are not home yet, we are in the middle of a battlefield and we need to be equipped with the right weapons for warfare.
Jude will show us what this means in the last portion of his letter. But what can we do today when we think about this? I think the first thing is that we need to understand that we are in a battle this is an important thing we do not think about. How dangerous would it be to walk in the middle of a battle and have no knowledge that you are in the line of fire? It is not so much that you died in battle, but you died because you did not know you are in battle. Christians beware that Satan is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. With that in mind then the next thing we can do is be more aware and alert. Being on the forefront knowing that the enemy can attack at any time helps you stay out of danger or prepared when danger is before you. So a Christian with this knowledge can be aware that this prowling lion is lurking in the thicket. Leo the Great said, “There are no works of power, dearly beloved, without the trials of temptations; there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch. If we want to overcome, we must fight.” Thirdly, know that this is not a short battle, this is lifelong. Paul says at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). This battle is not short-lived, but is always raging on this side of the river. We will lose, we will get knocked down in this battle, but we are kept by Christ. We are victorious in Christ. Jude says our common salvation is important, and we need to know this, however, we cannot be ignorant of what this means. We fight daily, hourly, again not against people, but powers.
What then are we fighting for? Jude explains we are fighting for ‘the faith delivered.’ What a glorious succinct statement that would be great to look at in more detail. However, for the sake of time let us briefly comment on each word. First, we shall notice the definitive nature of this faith. It is not ‘my faith’ or ‘your faith’ but the faith. In a day and age when everything is internalized and personalized we need to be reminded that the faith we share is the same. As Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4–5). We often only think as ourselves, yet the Bible speaks of the individual’s faith but a united faith in Christ. This is what can make such an important difference, especially when we think of the concept of warfare. That we are in this together, side by side. John of the Cross said, “The devil prevails with ease over those who are alone, and who in the things of God order themselves according to their own will.” When we understand it is the faith that we share then we can fight with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Secondly, faith, this word means more than just a belief that one person shares, but speaks of the content of the gospel. Carl Truman calls this the creedal imperative, that we have a Scriptural basis for having statements of faith. Lastly, Jude explains that this is delivered to all the saints. Here we find out something very important about this faith, that is given or handed over. This faith is not something that appears out of fresh air. That this faith is something that is passed down. We do not get to make this up or change it how we want to. The reformation was not some radical revolution, but a reforming of the Scriptures. Many of the reformers sought to lean on and quote church fathers along with the Bible, not to show the church fathers were right, but the Bible is right, and here are those who agree. We need to protect what is given to us so we can give it to the next generation. Every generation has this burden to learn and pass on what the Scriptures have taught. But also notice why Jude explains we need to fight for what has been delivered to us because some have changed what was delivered to us.
Jude explains that some have crept in. He explains that they have done so without being noticed. Again, when we let our guard down, we can miss what is happening. We often think the problems and issues that are faced by the church are outside, but we have many warnings in the Scripture that problems can arise from within, sadly this has been my experience watching churches. Hardly is a church closed because of an external group that attacks them, although this might become more common shortly. Many times the church is reluctant to know what the faith handed down to them and the tradition which is a part of that culture. They would willingly stay how they are and be more comfortable than fighting. Just look at some of the mainline denominations, sadly they ended up that way because they did not content but also those who had crept in unnoticed. Now I am not saying treat every member as a spy or look for the worst in people. Be cautious that we hold up the Bible between us, let us not get dragged into small petty arguments, but let us always seek to find out what the Bible says, not what we want it to say.
Jude is saying something here that is a hard pill to swallow, in the church, those who profess to be called, beloved, and kept, are ungodly. The Westminster Confession says, “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” We need to continue to fight to ensure that we do not have more error in us, or as the WCF says, “synagogues of Satan.” Paul tells the elders in Miletus, on the beach, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28–29). The warning Paul gives is for them to pay attention to themselves and all the flock. The elders have a direct calling to shepherd those given to their care. They have to watch over your soul and will have to give an account to God for how they shepherd you. You can help them in two ways, pray for them as they seek to pay attention to themselves and encourage and exhort them in their Christian battle. But secondly, understand that they are charged to pay attention to you. They might call you and ask you how you are going so that they can pray for you. Dig deep and do not just answer the question of how you are going well. What can they be praying for? How can they be praying for you and your family? How can they encourage or exhort you in your Christian fight? This is not natural.
Two dangerous teachings in the church
Jude lists here two dangerous teachings that had crept into the church, perverted grace and denying Christ. We will see this unpacked in the next section and the largest of the book of Jude (vs 5-16). But maybe a few comments to help us with understanding these problems. The first we see first is one of perversion. Perversion is taking something good and twisting and distorting it. Notice that they are perverting the grace of God. A great thing but those who have crept in unnoticed are distorting God’s grace. Now we begin to understand why we are too content for the faith. If we do not work out the details and fight for truth in how we present the important doctrines, such as the grace of God then what we end up having is a different religion altogether. Grace ceases to be true grace. They pervert grace into sensuality, I prefer almost all other translations of this word, licentiousness (NASB) license to immorality (NIV), or lewdness (NKJV). Just because people use a biblical term does not mean they use it the way the Bible uses it. Sadly, we take something like the grace of God and turn it into an excuse for us to do what we want. But in doing that we misunderstand the grace of God. We are not saved from our past sins but we are given the gift of grace through faith so that we might be his craftsmanship for his good works (Eph 2:8-10). Saved, for a purpose. We love to point out those who are legalistic, but sadly we have not done a good job of pointing out the errors of those who pervert God’s grace. We see grace as a ticket to heaven, not as a God-given gift from God with many blessings. I think this is the major problem in the church today, we do not know the glorious task that is given to those who are called, beloved, and kept. That we are to show others, not just the love of God, but his holiness through becoming more like his son. His mercy and graciousness towards others. Paul warns of not only false teachers who pervert God’s word but men and women who follow these false teachers because it seems good for them and how they live. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3–4). How cautious we need to be, not to twist or distort God’s word for our own means. To take something good and make it evil. We do this not only with God’s grace but with many if not all doctrines.
Secondly, Jude warns of those creepers who deny Christ, mainly his kingship and lordship. You can quickly see why this short letter is a timeless truth. 2000 years old and you think Jude could be a pastor posting online today. How quick we can be to say that Jesus is my redeemer, but not my king. Or Jesus is my savior but not my Lord. However, the making of Disciples is that we would teach them what Jesus has taught us, that they might do it as well (Matt 28:18-20). Both of these things are connected, you pervert the grace of God into licentiousness then what you have is no law given to us by Christ. Christians should be marked that they are, as Jude put it earlier slaves or bondservants to Christ (vs 1). That we are not our own (HC1). We live as one who is called, beloved, and kept.
The stark reality that is before us in this passage is you fit into one of two categories; you have fighting faith, or you are headed to condemnation. We either fight for what has been handed down to us, or we twist and distort it for our own means, but Jude tells us what will happen to those who do such a thing. And as always we need to ask for God’s help, for we are unable to do this by ourselves.
 Elliot Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Early Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).